I went to a lot of conferences last year, but this keynote presentation by United Nations News and Media Director Stephane Dujarric stood out. I’d been wondering if lessons from a sprawling intergovernmental agency would apply to my world, which is essentially B2B. Well, they do: that’s why it’s my highlight n°2 from 2011.
Stephane Dujarric is a former ABC reporter and currently the director of news and media for one of the most sprawling seas of bureaucratic acronyms you could imagine: the United Nations.
He was at the IABC Europe conference in Turin last April to deliver a keynote talk entitled ‘Bartering for Communications’. It was based on a single premise: that working through partnerships is the only way to have real impact when you have limited resources but something to ‘trade’ (in this case, the organization’s global reach and legitimacy).
While I was curious from a purely intellectual standpoint about what would he would say, I wasn’t sure how much of it would apply to my mostly B2B world. After all, the UN has communication challenges that most of us don’t. (Few of us have as a mandate to promote world peace and security, for example.)
Yet whether we sell cloud computing services or laundry detergent, routers or handbags, pharmaceuticals or support for charity, we all have to compete — for attention, for funding, against resistance to change.
How the UN competes
Dujarric went on to discuss the mix of tactics he relies on to compete — and get the organization’s messages out.
Let others tell your story
Through a tactic Dujarric calls participatory media, the UN works closely with content creators who can have influence on their communities – film and television in particular. ‘We’ve reached out to film industry, be it Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood to get those issues into the scripts. We provide one-stop shopping: script review, logistical help, and help filming on our premises. We’ve opened up the UN,’ he explained. Gone are the days when Hitchcock had to build a studio for his shots of the UN in North by Northwest! Moreover, today the organization adopts product placement tactics; television shows like ‘Ugly Betty’ have featured storylines about malaria, for example.
If the UN works closely with content creators, it also depends on celebrities to get its messages across. “We have a lot of goodwill ambassadors, from music, sports, even Royals. Athletes have a way of communicating to young people, who are not really interested in hearing from the UN. Sports figures like Zinedine Zidane are very important to us. They give us a lot of time; they allow us to use their likeness, they go out into the field,” he explained.
Make it really easy for the media
News organizations are slashing bureaus and limiting their presence outside their home countries, but they still have a need for coverage. Using a tactic Dujarric calls advocacy journalism, the UN has a news center that supplies raw footage, TV feeds, radio clips, photography and stories in wire format to the organizations. Of course, diminishing resources have led to a change of standards: He recalled his time at ABC a decade ago, when the news organization would not put on air video it did not produce. ‘But now, they need it, and as long as they’re sure of the quality and strength of the content, they can,” he said.
Use new channels and ‘old media’ formats in new ways
Like many organizations, the UN has a Facebook presence. Last year, it experimented with a live conversation between the public and Helen Clark, who’s a former New Zealand prime minister and administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). To make the conversation more engaging, they used a ‘hybrid journalism‘ format and had it moderated by a BBC journalist. They invited questions prior to the event, and the moderator continued to feed questions during the session. The video, on how to end poverty, got about 10,000 views.
Enable your teams
The UN’s real work is done in the field; that’s where all the stories are. Three years ago, it approached the manufacturers of the Flip cam, and purchased video cameras at a reduced priced – something the manufacturers were able to do as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility efforts. Dujarric’s team created an instructional DVD, and sent the videocams out to both communication managers as well as program officers. (Dujarric provided similar handbooks and toolkits for non-professionals on how to best use Facebook and Twitter.)
How do you motivate people who are not primarily communicators to communicate? Dujarric advised to work closely the leaders who ‘get it’ and then showcase their work. ‘Once you show that one person’s clip got on TV, then others follow,” he said.
Focus on the story, not the brand
This is all about putting the issue before the logo. ‘At the UN, it’s often a challenge,’ he noted, ‘but at end of the day, it’s the issue that’s key. In the end, the payback is much more. Audiences are much more sophisticated; people sniff out the bull, so that’s a self-correcting factor.
For the Flipcam project, for instance, field managers focused on demonstrating the impact of their programmes on people; only the last third of the story was the UN angle.
Get the most out of your content
Dujarric said they got a slew of terrific stories from the project. They then developed short videos that were UN-branded and posted to YouTube and used on Facebook. Broadcasters, however, received raw footage, without voice-overs, as well as the accompanying scripts. ‘We try to get most use out of every dime,’ he said.
And finally, demonstrate impact
As an intergovernmental agency, the UN needs to develop communication products that show that donor funding leads to real impact. There’s been a change in focus from how fast money could be spent to ‘what has the impact been’? (Sounds like a lot of marketing departments, no?) And while that’s a completely normal question, it has required a change of mentality.
A change of mentality, a focus on content, reduced budgets, competing for attention – isn’t that what we’re all facing right now?
View my highlight n° 1: Making content accessible for smaller languages.